March 10, 2015
An Upbeat Read about Death
Post by Brittany Tedesco
At one point In the popular Disney movie, The Lion King, all of the animal characters join together to sing and dance triumphantly to “The Circle of Life,” a glorious refrain exalting the cycle of death and new life on earth. Like me, you might´ve found yourself humming (or dramatically belting out) the tune in the shower or car.
As I sat down to write this post, I thought about those cartoon animals, so enthusiastically proclaiming the beauty and wonder of the “circle of life”. . . part of which involves death.
Death, thanks to sin, is a “natural” part of the human (and animal and plant) experience. But, pardon me if I don´t ecstatically embrace the fact that all creatures on earth must die at some point or another. Yes, it´s natural, but unlike birth and new life, which feel good and right to our souls and spirits, death, so often, feels like an affront.
For as long as humans have inhabited the earth, we´ve fantasized about ways to circumvent death.
As a young girl, I remember watching a 1980s movie called The Hugga Bunch, where a girl travels to HuggaLand through a mirror in her room to find a way to keep her grandmother young. A tree grows in that land, the berries of which have the power to grant instant youth to whomever consumes them. If the berries hit the ground, however, they disappear. The girl goes to great lengths to obtain the berries and nearly makes it back to her grandmother with a container full of them before tripping and spilling the berries on the floor. I still remember the disappointment I felt as I watched those berries hit the ground and disappear.
The prospect of earthly immortality was lost...and it stung to watch it happen. The girl´s grandmother would eventually die.
In the small Japanese village of Nagoro, Tsuki Ayano tries to recreate the people who used to live in the village but are now dead or have moved away.
Ayano was born in Nagoro but lived for many years in Osaka. When she moved back to Nagoro, she was dismayed to find that the population had shrunk to only 35 people. To quell her sadness and sense of loss, she went to work making life-sized dolls out of wood, cotton, and other materials. She crafts them to look like the actual people she remembers, placing them in various locations throughout the village. Throughout the past 12 years, she´s made more than 300 of these dolls, which now out-populate the humans in Nagoro.
Death creates voids, and we do our best to fill them. It´s probably one of the most unnatural-feeling, “natural” parts of being a human.
In a recent interview, popular radio and television broadcaster, Larry King, identified himself as "probably an atheist," and stated his opinion that the only reason religion exists is because of death—fear of death, specifically. He doesn´t believe in an afterlife. He thinks that once you die, that´s it. You simply cease to exist.
But King likes living! He doesn´t relish the idea of ceasing to exist, and so he´s pinning his hope on future advances in cryogenic technology. If he froze himself, he said, perhaps 200 years down the road scientists will be able to unfreeze him and provide him with a second chance at life. Hallelujah! Reborn into a sinful world with the decrepit body of an 80- or 90-something-year-old!
In her 1975 children´s novel, Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt portrays the ugly side of immortality—of never growing old in the world in which we now live. This was precisely the reason God kept Adam and Eve from eating of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden after they disobeyed Him to usher sin into the world. Living forever in a sinful world isn´t God´s plan for us. . . but it´s still something humans dream about and grasp at.
Why? Because death feels like an affront. It doesn´t feel natural.
I hate funerals. Does anyone really enjoy them? Even if the deceased wasn´t someone I knew very well, I hate the loss suffered by their loved ones. I hate the palpable void the person leaves behind. . . the separation, the grief.
Jesus allowed Himself to experience that deep heart grief when His close friend, Lazarus, died. Sure, He raised him from the dead, but not before drinking of the intense emotion we feel when we lose someone dear to us.
Jesus didn´t celebrate the “circle of life” taking place before His eyes. He mourned. He wept.
As Christians, we mourn the loss that death creates, but not like those without hope. If the person who died had the Spirit of Christ living in them, they are with Him in glory. In new bodies, in a place without sorrow and pain. In the words of John Piper, “Death is like my car. It takes me where I want to go.”
“To die is gain,” said the Apostle Paul. Christians have no reason to fear death. For us, it is only the vehicle to bring us into the arms of Jesus Christ. Can you imagine a better place to be?
And yet, for those of us still on earth, losing loved ones or hearing about Christians being killed for their faith throughout the world can be jarring and upsetting. I know it makes me want to weep.
I´ll be honest, I find it very unsettling that ISIS, and other enemies of the gospel, continue to murder Christians. Even though I know those believers are with the Lord, my heart breaks that those lights were extinguished in our ever darkening world. It´s our loss, not theirs.
God knew we would feel this way. He knew that, in our limited understanding, we´d be confused and wonder why it seems our enemies are succeeding in using death to steal from us.
And so, He offers us a glimpse of what is occurring beyond the grave—in the place where He, along with the martyred Christians, dwell.
In Revelation 6:9-11 (NKJV), the Apostle John receives this vision: “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.”
God will avenge the killing of His own, but not before the particular number of believers, whom He has ordained, is to be martyred.
As out of control as the world seems right now, it´s all under His control.
ISIS won´t triumph. And neither will death. In Christ, it has no sting. It´s full of promise. Those we´ve loved and lost, we will see again. . . when it´s our turn to die.